Comerford, Cranes Repeat as D3 Champs

November 17, 2012

By Gary Kalahar
Special to Second Half

YPSILANTI – By the time she is finished with her high school career, perhaps Plainwell’s Mallory Comerford will be an MHSAA champion in all eight individual swimming races.

Sounds a bit far-fetched to be sure. But after Comerford’s performance Saturday in the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 meet at Eastern Michigan University, would anyone care to bet against her?

Comerford, a sophomore, made it four championships in four different races by winning the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle in dominant, record-breaking fashion.

Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood used its outstanding depth – scoring at least 15 points in every race – to swim away with its second consecutive Division 3 team title. The Cranes scored 361 points, and Bloomfield Hills Lahser finished second with 211.

As a freshman, Comerford was the champ in the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle. Plainwell coach John DuBois said with another excellent long-distance freestyler last year, Comerford was placed in the sprints to give the Trojans the potential for more points.

“So we trained her in sprints, but her love is distance,” DuBois said. “It wasn't a hard transition at all.”
It certainly didn't look like it, especially on the final weekend.

“I was real happy with how I did,” Comerford said. “I’m very excited. I felt smooth going in the water Friday, and it was the same way (Saturday).”

In the 200 freestyle, Comerford set the Division 3 record with a 1:50.92 in the preliminaries and lowered it to 1:48.07 to win the final by more than six seconds.

“In my heart, I thought she could go 1:48,” DuBois said. “But I didn't know it would be that easy. Easy as in the way she swam – it was so effortless. She was in a groove.”

Comerford’s 4:58.18 in the 500 freestyle preliminaries established a meet record. That one lasted about 24 hours, too, as she went out fast and never slowed down in a 4:53.14 final. She won by 13 seconds with a time that would have made her a winner at the day’s Division 1 or Division 2 Finals.

“That was a surprise to me,” Comerford said.

Ten minutes after that race, Comerford was back on the blocks for the anchor leg of the 200 freestyle relay, boosting the Trojans from sixth place to fourth.

“I had to be there for my team,” Comerford said. “I just had the belief that I was fresh and I could do it."

She brought Plainwell from seventh to fourth on the final leg of the 400 freestyle relay, but the Trojans were disqualified.

“I knew it would be tough, but it was definitely worth it,” Comerford said about switching her focus to the longer distances. “It was a lot more yardage, a lot tougher on your body to be prepared for the longer races. My coaches, John DuBois here and Jeff Russell with USA Swimming, have pushed me as hard as I could go. I couldn't do what I've done without them.”

DuBois, whose team finished fifth with 140 points, said Comerford’s willingness to swim the events where she could most help the team is representative of her attitude.

“She’s a phenomenal athlete, she has great character and she’s an unbelievable worker,” he said. “She obviously is gifted, and we’re lucky to have her at Plainwell. She’s been a model academically and athletically. She’s all the things coaches love to have.”

Another thing all coaches would love to have is the depth of Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood rode to the team title. The Cranes had no divers but had girls swimming in every final race. In nine of the 11 events, they scored at least 23 points.

“A lot of it goes to the competition that we started with the first day of practice,” first-year Cranbrook-Kingswood coach Chris Bagley said. “It’s unbelievable to think about how deep we are.”

Senior Kylie Powrie swam on teams that finished second in Division 3 her freshman and sophomore years and won titles the last two.

“It’s amazing,” Powrie said. “Our team has come so far. We've improved so much over the years. I never would have thought this was possible my freshman year. When I started, it was hard for us to fill up all the events.”

Powrie, the 2011 champion in the two races won by Comerford this year, finished her career by helping the 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relay teams to victory, the latter in a Division 3-record 3:33.63.

“We just wanted our team record, and we got it and got the state record,” Powrie said.

Lara Kokubo was Cranbrook-Kingswood’s lone individual champion, winning the 100 freestyle. She also swam on the two winning relay teams.

“We knew we were going to have high expectations, but to do what we did, the way we did it, is just unbelievable,” Bagley said. “We set our goals at the beginning of the year, and we never talked about winning a state title. We talked about being the most improved team in the state, and I think we did that.”

Ines Charles led runner-up Bloomfield Hills Lahser. She repeated as champion in the 100 backstroke, helped her 200 medley relay team to a second straight title and finished second in the 100 butterfly.

Click for full results.

PHOTO: Members of the Cranbrook-Kingswood 400-yard freestyle relay team celebrate their LP Division 3 Final record time Saturday. (Click to see more from

East Grand Rapids' Briggs to Receive Deserved Spotlight for Half-Century of Swim

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

May 17, 2024

EAST GRAND RAPIDS – When the idea was presented to celebrate his coaching milestone, Milton “Butch” Briggs balked at it.

West MichiganThe longtime East Grand Rapids swimming & diving coach doesn’t like to be the center of attention, although his teams certainly have been over the last 50 years as he’s established a pair of perennial state powerhouses. 

“He vehemently said, ‘No, we’re not doing this,’” Pioneers assistant girls coach Gwen Barnes said. “But it’s going to be super cool and so deserving. We need to mark this occasion as a community and swimming community. He has influenced so many people and been an active member of the community for a long time.”

On Saturday, the East Grand Rapids Community Foundation and Alumni Association will commemorate Briggs and his 50 years of coaching at the school.

Briggs took over the East Grand Rapids boys swimming & diving program for the 1972-73 season, and the girls program beginning in the fall of 1974. He has coached 102 seasons total, winning 26 MHSAA Finals championships with the girls and 12 with the boys.

Briggs has always wanted the focus to be on his teams rather than himself.

“He is not one who likes the spotlight,” retired Pioneers athletic director Tim Johnston said. “He is a very private man, but it is awesome that this group of alumni, swimmers and parents want to celebrate him.

“He is one of the best coaches I have ever had the opportunity to work with, but to be completely honest, he is a better person and more than just a coach. That is the truth.”

Past EGR swimmer Kris Ward was a member of the first girls state championship team in 1978.

“He had a huge impact on me,” Ward said. “Just from understanding hard work and dedication and being part of a team. Then following it through. He worked with a variety of people on the team and helped us to come together. It was all about life lessons, and he's teaching the kids that while still being successful.”

Briggs also coached Ward’s daughters Alex, Ashley and Abby.

“He was always about connecting with the kids,” Ward said. “My kids were all able to swim for him, and so I had that experience with him in a different way and seeing how he was with all of my girls on the team.

“He starts with connecting with one person and carries that through to make the success better.” 

Briggs, second from far left, celebrates the 2014 Lower Peninsula Division 3 championship with his girls team. Barnes, an assistant coach for the girls team the past three years, also swam under Briggs from 1984-87.

Her teams won four straight Finals championships and never lost a dual meet.

“There were high expectations for us, and despite them being unspoken, we felt it,” Barnes said. “We wanted and felt this desire to do our best on that team each year, and he instilled this culture of commitment and hard work. Every swimmer had different abilities, but he was able to tap into getting us to do our best.”

Barnes has gained a different perspective of Briggs as his assistant.

While she noted that he still displays the same traits as far as his demeanor, sense of humor, kindness and patience, his devotion to the program and his student-athletes also has never wavered.

“Coaching with him as an assistant, you see how much work and time he puts in that goes unnoticed sometimes,” Barnes said. “To maintain that level of commitment for 50 years is pretty remarkable, and he still has this presence when on the pool deck that challenges everybody to do their best. He set the same standard for everyone, and everyone on the team feels important, which I think is cool.

“He weaves in a lot of stories and lessons from over the years and maintains traditions that I think make current teams feel like they are a part of and building onto the history.”

Briggs, who played football and ran track & field in high school, was inducted into the Grand Rapids Hall of Fame in 2009. The EGR natatorium was named after him in 2014.

Briggs, who taught at Ottawa Hills High School, has received national attention, too. In June 2020, he was named National Girls Swim Coach of the Year by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association. Briggs had received the same honor in 2011.

He wrote this of his coaching philosophy as part of the nomination for the NFHS girls swimming award:

“My coaching philosophy has been, and continues to be, a work in progress. I have formed relationships with hundreds of amazing young people. They have taught me life lessons in real time and real situations. As a neophyte coach, the experience revolved around winning. We worked together as a team, supported each other in and out of the pool, and won often. Thankfully, I became aware of the value within each athlete. Today, I attempt to interact with each athlete at every team activity and follow their progress in non-swimming endeavors. In short, when I removed my ego from the team's expectations and outcomes, the entire atmosphere was much more enjoyable and productive. And we are still capable of being successful. The Lord has put me in the right place at the right time.”

Ward said she expects about 200 people to attend Saturday’s celebration.

“He has impacted so many people in the swimming community, and there is something special in what he has created,” Ward said. “All of the kids on the current teams and their families will be there, as well as a lot of different generations. I also know that there will be people coming from far away.”

As far as Briggs’ future, Barnes doesn’t see him stepping down any time soon.

“I don’t really ever see him stopping,” she said. “His passion is EGR swim, and I think he will continue to be a part of the program as he can and wants to be.”

Dean HolzwarthDean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS (Top) Longtime East Grand Rapids swimming coach Butch Briggs, right, will be celebrated this weekend for his half-century of coaching the Pioneers. (Middle) Briggs, second from far left, celebrates the 2014 Lower Peninsula Division 3 championship with his girls team. (Top photo by Kris Ward; middle photo by High School Sports Scene.)